Is an engagement ring an unconditional gift or a gift conditional on marriage? Depending on who you ask, opinions vary on this subject. I asked a number of my friends and the consensus appears to be that the answer should depend on the circumstances surrounding the breakup of the engagement.
Courts have taken different approaches regarding ownership of engagement rings when the marriage does not take place. Historically, courts looked at who broke off the engagement. If the donor did, he was not entitled to the return of the ring, and if the donee called off the engagement, she had to return it. Others have held that the engagement ring is an unconditional gift that does not have to be returned, regardless of the fault of either party. Whatever the donor’s initial rights to insist on the return of the ring, if he doesn’t ask for the ring back when the engagement is broken, he is estopped from demanding it later. Delay in demanding the return of the ring may also suggest that its character has changed from an engagement ring, conditional on marriage, to an unconditional gift.
So if you are the donor, make sure you request the ring back immediately upon breakup of the engagement or the courts may rule against you!